The Catholic Thing
A Fearless Inner-City Ordinary Print E-mail
By George J. Marlin   
Tuesday, 10 November 2009

These days, it’s not easy being an Ordinary in America’s northeastern inner-city dioceses. These bishops have had to cope with rapidly changing demographics that have seriously impacted their ability to carry out the Church’s mission.

The Catholic men and women of the nation’s “greatest generation,” who were the mainstay of the Church in New York City, Boston, Hartford, Newark, and Philadelphia, have been aging, leaving the old neighborhoods for retirement settlements in the south or west. And they’ve been dying, too. In the last decade, members of the World War II generation have been passing away at the rate of one thousand a day.

As a result, inner-city Catholic populations have declined, as have collection basket revenues; hundreds of churches and parochial schools have had to be closed. The influx of new Catholic immigrants to run-down neighborhoods has posed additional challenges. Dioceses are struggling to provide essential spiritual services to these hardworking, struggling minorities.

Political clout has also declined. The days when an Ordinary could make a few discreet calls to deep six anti-Catholic policies are pretty much over.

In my hometown of New York, for instance, Catholics in recent years have been defeated on many fronts. Cafeteria Catholic governor, George Pataki (1995-2006) approved state gay-rights legislation and the repeal of the “conscience clause” on state abortion services, thus forcing Catholic medical institutions to violate their commitment to the sanctity of human life. Our current governor, David Paterson, a baptized Catholic, is pushing for passage of gay-marriage legislation.

Enter the Most Reverend Nicholas DiMarzio, who became the seventh Bishop of the Diocese of Brooklyn in August 2003. Known as the “Diocese of Immigrants,” it is completely urban and has about 1.8 million Catholics and 200 parishes.

The sixty-five-year-old DiMarzio has been an incredibly effective Catholic advocate. He has been adept in dealing with special interests and pols of all stripes in City Hall, Albany, and Washington.

DiMarzio made his debut on the national stage in 2004 when he criticized a New York Times op-ed piece by a Notre Dame dean, Mark Roche, titled “Voting Our Conscience Not Our Religion,” which concluded that Catholics in good conscience could vote for the pro-abortion John Kerry for president. Bishop DiMarzio blasted the author, complaining that this “Dean of a major Catholic University, confused the issue of conscience and, in fact, told people how to vote.” “This,” he continued, “is something that none of us particularly likes.”

DiMarzio reminded Catholics that conscience is “not some type of freewheeling optional determinate of our action” but instead must be informed. The bishop went on to demonstrate that there is “a hierarchy of values” regarding life and that one cannot put poverty issues on an equal plane with abortion or euthanasia.

In May of this year, he publicly criticized Notre Dame President Father John Jenkins saying he “made a serious error in inviting President Obama to be commencement speaker…” He endorsed former Vatican Ambassador Mary Ann Glendon’s position that Notre Dame had a responsibility, “not to honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles.”

The bishop has also been an effective coalition builder. Realizing that 40 percent of New York’s housing foreclosures are in his diocese, DiMarzio teamed up with U.S. Senator Charles Schumer and local legislators to address the problem. Stating that “Housing is a basic human right, not a luxury,” he established Catholic Charity support programs to counsel and aid those in communities most affected.

Bishop DiMarzio has led the charge opposing state legislation that would amend the statute of limitations for abuse of minors to permit people who are alleging wrongdoing going back more than fifty years to initiate lawsuits against the Church that are impossible to defend. The bill, he argues, is not “aimed at individuals, but rather at the institution of the Church” and was “spurred by trial lawyers and some victims to punish the Church for its historical inadequacies.

In this battle, the bishop has been fearless. DiMarzio has publicly criticized the bill’s author, Assemblywoman Marge Markey, for singling out the Church. He warned legislators at a breakfast at his residence that if the legislation becomes law his diocese could go bankrupt, that he will be forced to close churches in their district and angry constituents will punish them at the polls. When accused by the press of blackmailing legislators, DiMarzio refused to back down saying, “This bill is going to bankrupt the Church. . . .We are going to close parishes in these districts if this bill goes through. I’m not going to deny that I said that.”

DiMarzio has also publicly praised Assemblyman Vito Lopez for sponsoring a competing bill that would not significantly alter the statute of limitations on abuse lawsuits. In recorded robocalls to Lopez constituents, the bishop expressed his gratitude for “his firm and courageous stance.”

DiMarzio dismissed the whines of the New York Times and other critics who claimed he stepped over the line and violated the Church’s tax-exempt status, saying he cannot be denied the right to thank those public officials who helped the Catholic community.

Bishop DiMarzio has been the most adroit Ordinary in the public square since Francis Cardinal Spellman resided in the “Power House” behind St. Patrick’s Cathedral. He should be the model in our time for priests elevated to the episcopate.

George J. Marlin is the author of The American Catholic Voter: Two Hundred Years of Political Impact.

(c) 2009 The Catholic Thing. All right reserved. For reprint rights write to: info at thecatholicthing dot org

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Comments (14)Add Comment
What about responsibility?
written by Reader, November 11, 2009
Maybe Catholics as a community SHOULD take the responsibility for all the lives ruined through molestation. Though, of course, the fault lies with individuals, there was also institutional cover-up that permitted the abuse to continue. Priests are representatives of our community equally whether they commit good acts or bad, and the position of most Catholics seems more defensive than contrite.
Crossing the line?
written by Ars Artium, November 11, 2009
This post mentions repeal of conscience protection laws in New York. Does this mean that abortions are actually carried out in Catholic hospitals? I hope to hear that this is not the case.
written by Gini, November 11, 2009
Thank you Bishop DiMarzio for all your efforts! May the Good Lord continue to give you good health to carry on the important work you are doing in our Diocese. Navigating the political structure is serious business.

Great article!
written by Willie, November 11, 2009
Thank God for bishops like DiMarzio. For too long the bishops have been docile, obsequious sycophants dancing to the tune of politicians. Whether fear of monetary reprisal or political disfavor was the reason for episcopal laxity, the faithful have been lead astray with all sorts of errors in belief including "seamless garment" theories. The cafeteria Catholic politician has held the Church hostage The media abuses us..A church with a few faithful is better than a crowd of hypocrites.
written by Daniel, November 11, 2009
Bishop di Marzio may be great with the POLS. He does less well protecting some of the more vulnerable of his flock. HE IS EVICTING NINE ELDERLY NUNS IN THEIR 60s, 70s, and 80s, SOME QUITE DISABLED, WHO HAVE GIVEN THEIR LIVES IN SERVICE TO HIS FLOCK. This to accommodate a deal he has made with a secular charter school company. These women are to be evicted on 31 March, Spy Wednesday, the eve of the Sacred Triduum, the celbration of Christ's Paschal Sacrifice. Ironic.
written by Bradley, November 11, 2009
Mr. Marlin covers the teaching and governing offices of the bishop. The sanctifying office also deserves mention. A partial description of this role from the Catechism: "...The bishop and priests sanctify the Church by their prayer and work, by their ministry of the word and of the sacraments. They sanctify her by their example, not as domineering over those in your charge but being examples to the flock...." God bless Bishop DiMarzio and all of the successors to the Apostles.
Go Bishop Go
written by Joseph, November 11, 2009
It's good to see an activist bishop who is not afraid to get his hands dirty in the nasty business of politics. Fight em on their turf once in a while. The Church has had a siege mentality for way too long, something that Vatican II tried to break albeit not completely. There are 400,000 priests worldwide but all you seem to hear about in the secular mass media is the alleged misdeeds of a very few. DiMarzio and Tim Dolan should team up more often to take back the Streets of NYC, my home town.
love you guys-BUT
written by debby, November 11, 2009
i know ive said this-like 1000x man- i love you TCT guys, writers & readers!
please please please (using all 500 characters on this) PLEASE
stop calling HERETICS Catholics! this is the enemy's language/ploy. no one who purposefully goes against Church teaching is a Catholic. there's only ONE definition. stop this Cafeteria,Baptized,In Name Only Catholic labeling and call heretics what they are. Shake off their dust, let it settle, trample their LIES underfoot & press on in Truth!
500 words from me too
written by Bradley, November 11, 2009
Debby, I love you too, especially your zeal and love for the Lord. But I feel compelled to return to my observation last week: it is the indelible mark received in Baptism that defines who we are, not a theological litmus test. From the Catechism: "No sin can erase this mark, even if sin prevents Baptism from bearing the fruits of salvation." Since we all sin, I think it particularly dangerous for us to judge whether another Catholic is a heretic or is bearing fruit.
NARAL likes Lopez, too!!!
written by Elisa, November 11, 2009
Bishop DiMarzio should have done more research on Assemblyman Vito Lopez. Mr. Lopez has supported same-sex marriage in NY, and he has the support of NARAL. I actually completely disagree with Bishop DiMarzio on this one.
Lopez = same sex marriage
written by Rosa, November 11, 2009
Bishop DiMarzio dropped the ball on Vito Lopez. Lopez supports same-sex marriage in NY. NARAL also rates Lopez highly.
essay not up to standard
written by Roger, November 11, 2009
Usually theCatholicthing essays don't include slips like "statue of limitations." [Corrected -Ed.] Granted that "housing" is a human good, must we uncritically turn it into a "human right?" Is it an inalienable right? Should citizens be forced to provide housing for those who, through fault of their own, lose or destroy their housing? Can every human right be enforced by law? At whose cost? I am commenting only on the essay, not on the good bishop.
To Ars Artium
written by George Marlin, November 11, 2009
To adhere to Catholic principles, New York Catholic hospitals have had to decline state funding. As a result, some Catholic hospitals have closed, others have gone bankrupt, many have had to curtail various medical services.
$ Changers in the Temple?
written by Royce, November 12, 2009
I'm new around here but I gotta say, I love this place! People who profess to be Catholic need to get back to being “Catholic”, including the Liberal priests in our pulpits. For the past 15+ years I’ve been listening to love this/love that and not a whole lot of defending the faith. I’d rather lose our church buildings & meet in a basement with a faithful priest & congregation than to continue hearing the PC drivel that spews from our Church leaders’ mouths. Jesus needs to clear the temple!

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